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Enhance Mental Performance Through Regular Exercise      

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Have you ever wondered whether exercise could do more than just help you stay in shape or
improve your physical health? Research shows that exercising for about 20 minutes a day can help boost mental performance.

More specifically, engaging in an aerobic exercise, such as cycling, swimming, or walking, at a moderate intensity followed by a cool down session has been shown to improve cognitive functions. Concentration, memory, and functional capacity, which refers to the ability to effectively complete activities, can all improve with exercise.

One recently published study shows that engaging in modest to vigorous physical activity (e.g., step cadence of ≥100) for as little as 9-10 minutes bolsters cognitive functions, such as memory, processing speed and accuracy, and verbal fluency. This boost in cognition was in comparison to light exercise, sitting, or sleeping, which led to mild cognitive changes.

Imaging studies also show enhanced activity in specific areas of the brain while people are
exercising. Increased activation is typically observed in the frontal region, the cerebellum, the motor areas of the brain, and several other regions that are responsible for focus and movement (e.g., balance) during exercise. The activation of these areas is especially helpful for performing challenging activities, such as learning a new sport. In addition to promoting increased activity in specific parts of the brain, exercise leads to the release of neurotransmitters and proteins that support the growth and protection of different brain cells.

For individuals with busy or hectic work schedules, finding creative ways to stay moderately
active during the day is vital toward boosting mental health. In today’s technology-based world, many people sit in front of their iPads, smartphones, and laptops for hours at a time.

It is important to incorporate physical activity into the daily routine as sitting for long periods of time is associated with an increased risk for anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment for some people.  Regular physical exercise is also linked to enhanced self-esteem, a heightened mood, and increased autonomy; all of which can bolster mental performance. In particular, research suggests that 10-to-40-minute bursts of physical exercise appear to improve blood flow to the brain, which immediately boosts an individual’s ability to focus on mental tasks. Additionally, exercising for about 20 minutes before giving a speech or taking a test can help improve overall performance. Going for a brisk walk before taking a test, for example, can enhance activity in parts of the brain that help a test taker concentrate and ignore distractions.

Staying physically active throughout adulthood also plays an important role in the prevention or reversal of cognitive problems such as senility or dementia. Furthermore, older individuals who are sedentary and experiencing cognitive difficulties, such as memory loss or trouble
concentrating, may experience heightened cognitive function by actively incorporating regular exercise (e.g., gardening, walking, swimming) into their daily routine. If vigorous exercise cannot be performed due to an injury, strength training, yoga, Physical Therapy have been shown to improve both mental health and physical performance.

If a current or previous injury is hindering you from exercising regularly or you want to avoid
further injury by ensuring that the proper form and techniques are being performed, our trained Physical Therapists are here to help. Our skilled team of experts can design a comprehensive Physical Therapy plan that can help keep you moving throughout your day.
Our Physical Therapists would be happy to assess your current physical state and create a
program tailored specifically to your needs and goals. Call Purposed Physical Therapy to make an
appointment or to ask any questions you may have.

References
1. Heisz JJ, Clark IB, Bonin K, et al. The effects of physical exercise and cognitive training
on memory and neurotrophic factors. J Cogn Neurosci. 2017;29(11):1895-1907

2. Mitchell JJ, Blodgett JM, Chastin SF, et al. Exploring the associations of daily movement
behaviours and mid-life cognition: a compositional analysis of the 1970 British Cohort
Study. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2023;77(3):189-195.

3. Li L, Men WW, Chang YK, Fan MX, Ji L, Wei GX. Acute aerobic exercise increases
cortical activity during working memory: A functional MRI study in female college
students. PLoS One. 2014; 9(6):e99222

4. Matta Mello Portugal E, Cevada T, Sobral Monteiro-Junior R, et al. Neuroscience of
exercise: from neurobiology mechanisms to mental health. Neuropsychbiology. 2013;
68(1):1-14.

5. Huang Y, Li L, Gan Y, et al. Sedentary behaviors and risk of depression: A meta-analysis
of prospective studies. Transl Psychiatry. 2020;10(1):26.

6. Hillman CH, Pontifex MB, Raine LB, et al. The effect of acute treadmill walking on
cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children. Neuroscience.
2009;159(3):1044-1054.

7. Barnes DE, Santos-Modesitt W, Poelke G, et al. The mental activity and exercise (MAX)
trial: A randomized controlled trial to enhance cognitive function in older adults. JAMA
Intern Med. 2013; 173(9):797-804.

8. Taspinar B, Aslan UB, Agbuga B, Taspinar F. A comparison of the effects of hatha yoga
and resistance exercise on mental health and well-being in sedentary adults: A pilot
study. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(3):433-440.

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